What’s in a Name?

My first ‘proper’ job was in 1998 in a small town in West Yorkshire. It’s a place called Keighley. You might know it. When I first moved to West Yorkshire to study in Bradford (pronounced ‘Bratfud’) I didn’t know about Keighley. In fact, it was probably a while before I had to go there at all and, when I did, I bought myself a ticket at Forster Square Station to Keighley.

“Could I have a adult day return to Keighley {Keeley} please?”

“Er, you mean Keighley {Keithley}?”

“Yeah, that’s the one, thanks”.

It wasn’t hard to spot the first time visitors to Keighley after that.

My second, proper job, was at Leeds Metropolitan University and whilst I was able to avoid Keighley I stumbled upon The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges. It was a bit of a mouthful and the acronym wasn’t any easier but it looked like it was just the thing I needed.

In the early 2000s I found myself as Convenor of the Association and it became, increasingly, known as the ‘Ee-Ay-You-See’ {EAUC} to many. But to some, it was any of the following: ‘You-Ack’; AEUC; The Association of Environmental Universities and Colleges; The Environmental Association OF Universities and Colleges’ and goodness knows what else. At best it was frustrating.

And once people were familiar with it, particularly the members, they would question the vailidity of the name as well. Their challenge was ‘it’s not all about the environment, I am a sustainability officer’ and the name of the Association is no longer relevant because it does so much more than ‘the environment’.

In truth, the Association has evolved significantly since I first got involved in it. 18+ years has seen it grow, employ staff, set up awards, develop measurement tools, training programmes, publications, webinars, international networks, and review its strategy and focus.

I was pleased to be invited to be part of that process and worked with members of the EAUC Board, executive team, Fellows and members of the association. The strategy was launched last year and really set a clear ambition to broaden its scope and increase its impact. All of sudden it felt like we’ve outgrown the name. Members were saying it, the task and finish group working on the strategy were saying it and so it was right to come up with something new that reflected the association’s new mission and priorities. Of course, much of what it has done in the past it will continue to do but it’s a good time to reposition.

I wasn’t involved in the development of the ‘new name’ or brand. I consciously left that to others to come up with and I was impatient when it seemed to take so long to come up with a new name. How hard can it be?

Like complicated maths, sometimes you want to know the answer and not be bothered with the working out. But to understand the answer you perhaps need to understand how it was arrived at, the logic that got you there. If you didn’t work the sum out for yourself you might even question the answer others have given you.

United Futures. When I heard it the first time, I thought ‘hmmm’. Not specific enough. Doesn’t tell me ‘sustainability’ or ‘university’ or ‘college’ and certainly doesn’t say ‘post-16 tertiary education’ to me. Well, good. It doesn’t need to. I don’t know how you reacted to the proposed name. It may have been with disbelief, indifference or excitement. Of course, it matters what the association is called but what’s more important it what it does. After a few minutes of thinking about it, I realised that. I also realised that the flexibility in the new name was a good thing – why box yourself in when you can create flexibility? Further and higher education doesn’t need any more constraints placed on it in such uncertain times. I like the way the new name aligns with the sustainable development goals and is forward looking.

I’ll be at the Annual General Meeting of The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges at the Annual Conference in Keele on June 20th. As representative of the University of Nottingham, I’ll be supporting the adoption of the new name ‘United Futures’ (there, I’ve said it) and then I’ll get a train to Mytholmroyd.

 

 

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Nottingham is number one in the world for sustainability for the fourth time – The News Room

The University of Nottingham has been ranked number one in the world for FOURTH time in in a list of the most sustainable universities.

Nottingham was ranked first out of 400 universities that took part in the Greenmetric Ranking of World Universities 2015, which is produced by the University of Indonesia.

The rankings take into account a wide range of criteria and there are 62 categories including green statistics, energy and climate change, waste management, transport and education around green issues.

It is the first and only ranking that measures each participating university’s commitment to developing an ‘environmentally friendly’ infrastructure.

Andrew Nolan, Director of Sustainability at the University said: “We are delighted to be recognised, again, as a University committed to sustainability by the prestigious University of Indonesia Greenmetric. Our continued efforts to maintain our ranking deliver real benefits for both our staff, students and the industries we work with.

“In 2015/16 we have invested heavily in new low carbon energy generation and distribution, low emission vehicles and continue to develop our teaching and research excellence to support sustainable development.”

Source: Nottingham is number one in the world for sustainability for the fourth time – The News Room

People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership – Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

At the end of September the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed and published.  They will come into effect at the end of 2015, following the completion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and cover the period 2016-2030. Unlike the MDGs, the idea is to involve the whole world in taking responsibility for development and place greater emphasis on three key issues that were missing previously: the role of women; the importance of education; and the focus on cities.

All of this is hard to argue with of course but it is worth remembering we are now fast approaching another critical conference in Paris where the UN Climate Talks present a challenge to draft and agree a meaningful commitment that supersedes the Kyoto Protocol.

Two major hurdles remain as the Paris deadline nears: climate finance, and emissions cuts. Back in 2010, the world agreed on building up a Green Climate Fund to help developing nations to tackle the impacts of climate change. The developed nations promised to provide the fund with US$100 billion by 2020. That hasn’t been forthcoming.
Not only that, it is clear the pace of negotiations is troubling. With just weeks remaining all Parties were almost unanimous in acknowledging that progress was insufficient. “It would be a catastrophe if the new treaty froze the existing reduction targets and pledges. We do need more regular adjustments that respect the latest climate science outcomes and the development of renewable energies” said Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace climate policy unit.

The United Nations definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Previous dialogues on sustainability have more or less focused on climate change and environmental issues, but the new paradigm of sustainability includes all efforts towards an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and the planet. There is a significant departure from the previous framework to now include a “harmonising” of three elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

Politically Led

The document is considered a political statement not a technical solution. Criticism that there are too many goals and targets is understandable but the SDGs cover a much broader range of issues than the MDGs. The millennium goals only covered “safe” themes such as poverty, primary education and child mortality. The SDGS weigh in on more meaty topics, such as governance, institutions, human rights, inequality, ageing, peace and climate change. The inclusive, detailed international negotiations have involved middle income and low income countries and as a result they are universal , holistic and ambitious –  the product of the 7m people who have given their views.

That said, not everyone agrees with the goals. Medical journal The Lancet, for example, describes them as “fairy tales, dressed in the bureaucrats of intergovernmental narcissism, adorned with the robes of multilateral paralysis, and poisoned by the acid of nation-state failure”.

This is the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind,” said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general. Putting people first is undoubtedly a strategic signal that global population, health and sanitation will top the list of priorities, but for the first time there is an explicit commitment towards education, something welcomed by a wide group of expert practitioners including The Global Alliance of Tertiary Education Sustainability Networks who wrote an open letter to present to the Chair of COP21 in Paris this December.

Whilst the ‘western’ approach to education for sustainable development has largely been focused on environmentalism, Iain Patton, CEO of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges who are a key player in the Global Alliance, believes there ‘will [be] benefit from this wider and more inclusive perspective … it’s no longer just about a nice green lifestyle but about international hunger, injustice and poverty’.

The new Global Goals say to us in the north: you may have much higher GDP per capita, but that doesn’t mean your societies are immune to problems that affect everyone in our interconnected globe’, says Patton. ‘It’s a reminder that the pursuit of prosperity isn’t just something for people far away to worry about’.

A New Prominence for Cities

It is arguably the eleventh goal, SDG 11, and its promotion of safer, more inclusive and resilient cities that makes them genuinely revolutionary. After all, two thirds of humanity will reside in urban settings by 2030 and by 2050, roughly 6.4 billion people – almost the equivalent of the planet’s current population – will live in a city. SDG 11 calls for greater investment in infrastructure, governance and safety in all urban spaces and human settlements, including slums, shanty-towns, ghettos and favelas of the world’s most fragile cities. The focus on informal settlements is crucial since the proportion of people living in slums is massive, and growing. There are already around 1 billion people living in slums today, as compared to 650 million in 1990. This population will grow to almost 2 billion over the next three decades.

Steve Turner, a city policy maker in Manchester believes overall the ‘goals are valuable in generating a ‘shared’ vision, providing some form of collective view of where we want to be going’. But he, like many, recognises that whilst the SDGs and the Climate Treaty are drafted, agreed and published by UN Members they will not be delivered by the UN or even national governments, but rather at the city/metro level where the Commission are not the delivery agents.

Critically, Turner recognises that without an effective mechanism for enforcement they can be ‘ineffectual’, ‘if we are serious about this then there needs to be an injection of rigour around their delivery.’

The UN recognises this and the targets will be reviewed systematically using a set of global, largely quantitative, indicators. These will be developed by a specially convened Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators and agreed subsequently by the UN Statistical Commission as well as the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Each nation and region will then go on to develop its own indicators.

Whilst the stats, numbers and measures might all sound rather clunky and dull, the SDGs give us an unparalleled opportunity to shape the international and national development agenda.

Women and Education – Fundamental to the SDGs

For example, much greater emphasis has been placed on the role of women and their access to education around the world. Whilst the rhetoric of the Sustainable Development Goals is laudable they are criticised for not garnering the financial commitment to achieve it. “In order for the SDGs to be met, implementation and financing plans must address inequalities and human rights, especially for women and girls. The financing plan being advocated by the US and other northern countries will merely uphold the world we have and not get us to the world we want,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

Like re-taking your marriage vows, the Sustainable Development Goals re-state the importance of those Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000 and, with the benefit of hindsight, experience and in the light of a rapidly changing world, reaffirm those commitments. So, are the Sustainable Development Goals the world’s biggest promise…. or the world’s biggest lie? Will the SDGs really re-shape the plans and behaviours of nations, multilateral institutions, companies, development organisations and people, to make the world a fairer and more sustainable place?

Many believe the goals have helped to direct public policies and budgets towards the poorest and are recognised as important drivers of international policy which ensure that national governments maintain a commitment to these global challenges.

Eddie Murphy, a respected sustainability expert at Mott MacDonald believes that ‘the MDGs have had some impact on driving governments to put in place legislative interventions to implement positive impacts, and this has helped the green agenda’.

In addition to the evidence about indicators, the MDGs created a real ‘hook’ that kept global poverty on national and international agendas.  Annual multilateral reviews of achievement; the MDGs + 5 and MDGs + 10, UN General Assembly meetings; and numerous regional and national meetings meant that poverty reduction received much greater attention around the world than it had in the past. At the same time, there are perfectly plausible arguments that most of the numerical progress made wasn’t a direct consequence of the MDGs, and that critical promises were broken.

It’s [Not] All About the Economy [But]

Amongst the financial recessions that have hit globally perhaps the MDGs have maintained at least some profile for the environmental agenda. Teresa Hitchock, a Partner in DLA Piper UK LLP and Head Safety, Health and Environment believes the Millennium Development Goals fell short of achieving their objectives in the face of other world crises such as terrorism , ebola and the Syrian conflict.  She believes ‘sustainability is still seen as the second cousin to immediate pressures’ and hopes the SDGs will redress that.

Many believe that whilst governments and policy makers have been active they have been unable, or unwilling, to lock-in business benefits to achieving the goals set out. Whilst there is a strong human rights agenda emerging there is a growing belief the SDGs must concentrate on making sustainability good business sense. This is a view shared by Paul Caulfield, Director of the MBA in CSR at the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at The University of Nottingham Business School. He sees ‘the main objective of SDGs as being to provide a common language and currency for business strategies’ so that what makes good business sense is doing the right thing. Are you listening Volkswagen?

Ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris it’s reassuring that SDG 13 states the need to ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ including the commitment to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate related hazards and natural disasters in all countries ; integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning; improve education, awareness raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning; a implement the commitment undertaken by developed country Parties to the UNFCCC to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible; and to promote mechanisms for raising capacities for effective climate change related planning and management, in LDCs, including focusing on women, youth, local and marginalized communities.

That sounds like a pretty sound framework – making it absolutely crystal clear that the delivery of Goal 13 is, in no doubt, dependent on some concerted effort and commitment at those talks.

The new SDGs bring together people, organisations and governments committing to reducing poverty and inequality, moving towards environmental sustainability and promoting social justice.  What’s not to like? The ambition is great, so let’s not do them down for that. If even half of the SDGs were achieved then by 2030 we should be living in a better world.

Stirling Efforts Among Universities 

I attended my first conference convened by The Association of University Directors of Estates this week hosted in the wonderful grounds of Stirling University. Sat in the carved valley of the Forth surrounded by white capped hills and mountains it made for a spectacular setting.

But it wasn’t all about appearances. There was some really good substance to the conference too. Ian Diamond attended to give a timely insight in to his recently published report to universities. There was honesty and inspiration in spades too – some fabulous ‘lessons learned’ sessions in open plenary with both The University of Birmingham and Glasgow School of Arts sharing their stories of recovery from fires which had devastating impacts on their operations spreading over days in the case of the former and months in the case of the latter.

There were sessions that inspired too. I attended a workshop session led by Atelier Ten who gave an overview of the work they have been doing to ‘Green the Ivy League’ with long term strategic planning in the estates of Yale and Harvard Business School where they have developed plans, standards, policies and solutions that will get them to their carbon reduction targets. They are doing this through ensuring new build projects meet the highest standards possible, by identifying how they can invest in larger scale energy infrastructure and, crucially, how they will improve the existing building stock. We know that universities all over the world are well motivated to invest in inspirational, complex, low carbon buildings. It’s equally recognised how challenging it can be to keep older existing stock performing well. The nature of capital rich and revenue poor businesses. The challenge hasn’t gone away but the case study presented at Yale was an excellent example of a deep refurb that creates better, healthier, more productive working environments for staff and students alike. Who wouldn’t want that?

There was some lively debate about the future of sustainability metrics and reporting performance within the sector. AUDE has shown some real leadership on this and is working with Arup to develop ideas in partnership with the EAUC and People and Planet over the coming months. The session was a scene setter for forthcoming regional workshops AUDE are running to which Directors of Estates and sustainability professionals are invited to attend to help shape this further.

On the final day after an fantastically hospitable and enjoyable evening in the setting of Stirling Castle, complete with pipers, haggis and a wee dram, it was left to Philip Ross of Unwork to share his insights into how technology is changing the very nature of society, communities and interaction. It’s profound impact on the type of spaces we require and desire in the future is clear. Generation Z just don’t work generations before them. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) really is just the start. The level of interactivity is only going to increase.

With insight from the current Union of Student President at Stirling and one its more famous alumni, Lord Reid of Cardowan, it was a fitting end it a thought provoking conference, reminding us to take the longer term view, to remain optimistic and resilient and to Kiss with Confidence.

Don’t boycott the Green League?

The following quote is taken from a blog written by Piers Telemacaque, NUS Vice-President (Society & Citizenship)on Sept 2nd 2014:

“You don’t need me to tell you how important it is that students have their voices heard on sustainability. That’s why People & Planet is such a vital student network for ethical and environmental activism, and why NUS is a proud supporter of their work – especially the Green League. The Green League offers us an independent assessment of sustainability in universities across the UK. We know that this is a critical issue for students, which is why they look at the Green League to get transparency on their institution’s ethical and environmental credentials. It allows the sector to see which institutions are taking sustainability seriously and, more importantly, spot those that aren’t. And it’s not just students who want to know this, but the wider public too. That’s why it’s so essential.  Read the full blog here: Piers Telemacque – Don’t boycott the Green League.”

The measured plea from Piers Telemacque NUS Vice-President (Society & Citizenship) is not to be ignored and it is hard to agree with what he says. However, there does need to be proper engagement between those who design the Green League and those who participate. The feedback the Higher Education sector has given People & Planet should be listened to and acted upon. As Director of Sustainability at The University of Nottingham I can confirm we ARE participating in this years Green League, but we hope for greater levels of collaboration between all parties and support the comments made by The EAUC and AUDE.